A new search engine aims to help you find cheaper groceries

Growing up in Selma, Alabama, Mark Peterson knew how difficult it was for his mother to pay for weekly groceries. “My mom struggled to put the kind of food she wanted on the table,” he says. As she worked to feed her family, she spent hours on weekends combing through flyers and booklets for coupons, buying items like eggs or pickles individually at mom-and-pop stores, and to visit four or more stores often to find the best deals.

Motivated by this childhood experience, Peterson started his company, Ziscuit, as a search engine for grocery prices. The platform, which he calls “the grocery store kayak,” allows food insecure customers or food desert users to search for the cheapest food near them, allowing them to saving hours of coupons and driving aimlessly from store to store. Ziscuit estimates its tool could help families save up to $520 a year.

[Screenshot: Ziscuit]

Ziscuit users can upload their grocery lists and instantly find the cheapest total bills based on their entries. By setting various parameters, they could increase their savings by expanding the radius of travel from home and the number of stores they are willing to visit. Much like Kayak did for flights and hotels in its early days, Ziscuit uses web crawlers to extract price data from supermarket websites, ranging from Publix to Walmart to Dollar General, according to the region. The information is frequently refreshed to ensure it is up to date, and users can access it for free. (Ziscuit currently earns revenue through advertising and survey products.)

The site can be used by anyone interested in saving money, and it comes at a critical time, when grocery prices hit a 40-year high due to inflation; food prices have increased by an average of 49% between May 2020 and January 2022. But in particular, Ziscuit hopes to meet the needs of food-insecure households (which are estimated to number 38 million in the United States) as well as to Americans who live in food deserts, or areas where access to healthy food is lacking.

Peterson is quick to point out that when it comes to food, supply shortages aren’t the problem. “Hunger is a logistical problem,” he says. “We have cheap food. We just don’t know how to aggregate demand and get food to the people who need it most. »

With the help of startup accelerators, including the Techstars Farm to Fork program, which invested $140,000, as well as the Google for Startups Founders Academy, which provides support for tech startups led by Black, Latinx and veterans, Ziscuit has already launched in four ZIP codes in the Atlanta metro area, an area home to a large portion of millennial women with two or more children, a demographic that company analytics have identified as the key to its model. These are households that are both tech-savvy and in need of savings, and often spend hours online finding recipes, listing ingredients, and trying to source them.

Currently, the company has about 100 users in each ZIP code, and Peterson says he’s received encouraging early feedback. Depending on the parameters set, users were able to save up to $10 per week, with an average of just under $5.

In addition to saving time and money, Peterson heard feedback that users also discovered nearby grocery stores they hadn’t been to before, including mom-and-pop stores and dollar stores, some even at walking distance. “People have found significant savings in places they didn’t expect,” he says.

The company is now targeting 23 US cities, each with substantial shares of its target population, after which it would eventually like to expand even further. The first stage is a rollout in two ZIP codes in Birmingham, Alabama, with the help of a $50,000 investment from fellow technology accelerator, Innovation Depot’s Velocity. In this iteration, Peterson hopes to help not only consumers, but also small retailers like those his mother frequented, those who might struggle to compete with the scale at which the Amazons of the world are able to aggregate demand and maintain prices. moo.

Peterson says, “All of these things need to be replicated by smaller retailers if they are to survive for the next 10 years. »